Life's Unfare: The MTA's Fare Hikes Cause Outrage


Much like the way people like to talk about the weather (how about those crazy thunderstorms last night!), we New Yorkers also enjoy complaining about the subways: they're dirty and smelly and never run on time. The MTA must really pride itself on this little cultural quirk, because the agency is doing everything in its power to increase griping by straphangers. The agency has set two fare hikes over the next three years. The first will kick in next July 1 with the second to follow in 2011. The increased fares are supposed to prevent service cuts, despite the plans already in motion to scrap plans for service increases on several lines that were supposed to be supported with this March's fare hike. The original plan was for another increase in fares in 2010.

Both papers have straight reports on the fare hikes and opinion pieces on the plan. The Daily News devotes two full pages to the issue in the front of the paper, along with an op-ed by Errol Louis suggesting that the city should vote on giving the mayor and City Council a majority of seats on the MTA's board and an editorial expressing outrage at the multitude of the agency's sins, declaring:

"Enough with transit fare hikes that drop out of the blue.

"Enough with worthless promises that hikes will be kept in line with inflation and eased in every two years.

"Enough with cattle cars that would violate cruelty-to-animal standards were they transporting cattle and not human beings."

News columnist Michael Daly bemoans the federal government for providing subsidies to corn farmers who produce the crop to make ethanol yet ignoring "what constitutes the greatest single energy conservation enterprise in the country." That may change if a bill passed in the House, The Saving Energy Through Public Transportation Act of 2008, becomes law. It may even allow for a fare decrease. Can you imagine the celebration if that happens?
The tabloids all over this story because its readers are the story. They're the ones who have to deal with the fallout from increased subway and commuter fares, along with toll hikes on the bridges and tunnels the MTA controls. This is a looming crisis, and there are many who wonder why commuters are shouldering the brunt of the issue. As the headline to another News story sarcastically and redundantly opines, "Fear not, execs: All YOUR fat jobs are all still safe." This "double-cross"--a headline used by the News on page 1 and inside the Post on page 6--may backfire in that fare increases may cause straphangers to avoid trains and buses if at all possible. For many, that is just not an option, and the "little guy" continues to get squeezed.

Some of the coverage today is dramatic: See the News' page-7 graphic of someone swiping through a turnstile that is manipulated to read, "$2.00? HIGHER... $2.25? KEEP GOING... HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?" But it is outrageous, and if papers that are supposed to represent Joe Average don't express outrage, who will? This is exactly the type of story that needs dramatic, sensational coverage. Attacking the issue from all angles allows for a conversation that might eventually allow for a solution beyond fare hikes. Of course, that will also be the day that someone doesn't equate the F train with "forever waiting" or the L train with "late." It's worth trying for, isn't it?

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